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  • The Cosmic Border Crisis

    Cities. For some the word evokes thoughts of skyscrapers, taxi cabs, subway systems, and an integrated nexus of life, lifestyle, and labor. For others the word brings to mind a hurried pace they would better off avoid, a cultural environment where people are reduced to business machinery and secularism rules from an unimpeachable iron throne. It is true that cities, increasingly so, have a flavor all their own. In fact, it has been repeatedly acknowledged that urban centers around the globe look more and more like each other and less and less than the rural areas immediately surrounding them. Tokyo, Atlanta, Dallas, Sydney, and Beijing are a lot more like New York City than Buffalo.

    What is Sacred Cosmopolitanism?

    This fusing of cultures, this urbanism, is an incubator for a cosmopolitan worldview. Cosmopolitanism is the view that all humanity belongs to a single community. People belong to a world community more than to a local community.  “The nebulous core shared by all cosmopolitan views is the idea that all human beings, regardless of their political affiliation, are (or can and should be) citizens in a single community.”[1]According to Diana Butler Bass, in her work Grounded, social scientists describe the twenty-first century as cosmopolitan. In this sense, “Boundaries have thinned between nations and cultures, and we participate in multiple worlds and our lives are simultaneously local and global.”[2] How does this affect religious perspectives? Butler Bass answers that this takes the form of what she calls sacred cosmopolitanism:

    Sacred Cosmopolitanism is “an awareness of the connections we share with God and others here on earth… something that is visible in religious attitudes, membership, and practices and revealed stories, experiences, and data. In certain ways, this awareness has always been with us. In the past, this understanding has embodied humankind’s greatest aspirations, and it has guided artists, prophets, gurus, mystics, and saints through the ages. But what was once the vision of only a few has now become a theological revolution of the many.[3]

    This sacred cosmopolitanism is “a borderless kind of spiritual awareness.”[4]

    The Cosmic Border Crisis

    Borderless is a nice way of putting it. Boundaries are done away with. As Butler Bass clarifies, “It is an understanding and experience of God that goes over boundaries. The boundary that once divided Creator from creation, that boundary that divided nature from the human community, the boundaries that divided human communities, and finally the boundary that divided God from humankind.” [5]

    This is classic Oneism, a cosmic border crisis where categories, concepts, and characteristics of creation are smuggled into our understanding of God. Butler Bass is advocating the same boundary-bulldozing that has defined every religious system since Genesis 3. And yet, Butler Bass is not completely wrong to say that such a resurgence of what “was once the vision of only a few has now become a theological revolution of the many.” Orthodox Christians must be as aware of the theological climate as those of a more liberally-minded persuasion. Is sacred cosmopolitanism a force that can push us toward greater cultural collaboration, unity, and human engagement with the world. Does a “borderless kind of spiritual awareness” animate us to do God’s work in the world?

    Cosmic Cosmopolitanism

    The answer to the question above must be answer in the negative. No Oneist spirituality can move us in the direction of truest human flourish and fulfillment. No spirituality uplifts humanity in a way that fits our design if it loses the distinction between Creator and creature, Lord and servant. Nevertheless, sacred cosmopolitanism is a great way of describing the biblical plotline. The story of the Bible moves from a garden in Genesis 2 to a glorified metropolis in Revelation 21. God’s people are looking for city with foundations (Heb. 11:10).

    God’s purpose for humanity was cosmos in scope. According to T. Desmond Alexander, “Underlying the creation of the earth is God’s desire to make a dwelling place for himself. In the light of this aspiration, the opening two chapters of Genesis reveal that humans are created with the intention that they should participate in transforming the earth into a divine dwelling.”[6] Others see both ruling and subduing the earth may serve as a functional definition of the image [7]. As God subdued the primordial chaos, and filled the creation with all types of life, so Adam and Eve is to image God in having dominion, being fertile, and multiplying and filling the earth. As God’s royal images, they were to extend the boundaries of God’s sacred space (the Garden) outward. Therefore “behind these commands lies the expectation that an ever-growing human population of royal priests will create a magnificent temple-city, which will eventually fill the earth.”[8]

    Butler Bass’s vision of Revelation is quite different than the one depicted by the Apostle John. Reflecting on the throne room of the Almighty, she writes,

    If asked to think of a room where there are chairs, most of us do not say “throne room.” Most of us say, “dining room.” Instead of thinking of Revelation’s sacred city as a sort of imperial throne room, perhaps we should see it as a dining room. And round the table are many chairs. The places are marked with cards: “Christian,” “Jew,” “Muslim,” “Buddhist,” “American,” “Arab,” “Chinese,” “African,” “Human,” “Animal,” “Fish,” “Tree,” and so on. No one owns the table. No one gets to take it over. [9]

    “American,” “Arab,” “Chinese,” and “African”? Certainly. What about “Muslims” and “Buddhists”? Idolators are explicitly said to be excluded from the city whose sole purpose is to magnify the splendor of the God who makes his dwelling there (Rev. 21:8). The final judgment is the ultimate reinforcement of boundaries. Trespassers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of God’s law. While this is a terrifying prospect for God’s enemies, it is a comfort for those who have received his grace and been welcomed into his family. “Revelation is designed not only to inform us and assure us about God’s final purposes, but to increase our longing for God and the realization of his purpose.”[10]

    Biblical cosmopolitanism is set before our eyes in Revelation 21:1-3, in language that elicits wonder and awe.

    Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

    This celestial city will be inhabited by “persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). This is a cosmicpolitanism, a transformed creation under the rule of King Jesus. The City that awaits us is greater than we can ever imagine. “If you enjoy culture, technology, and the triumph of the human spirit, you are really going to feel at home on the new earth.”[11] This hope pierces through to our day, fueling us to go into the world and bring all things under the lordship of King Jesus. A vision of the cosmos well-ordered by its architect is truest path to collaboration, unity, and human engagement with the world. Only when the boundaries of a body of water are firm can the River of Life flow (Rev. 22:1-2).

    [1] “Cosmopolitanism,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, found online at Accessed on 7/13/18.

    [2] Diana Butler Bass, Grounded: Finding God in the World-A Spiritual Revolution (New York, NY.: HarperOne, 2015), 270. Butler Bass holds a Ph.D. in religious studies from Duke University.

    [3] Ibid.

    [4] Ibid., 271.

    [5] Ibid.

    [6] T. Desmond Alexander, From Paradise to the Promised Land: An Introduction to the Pentateuch, Third Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 126.

    [7] G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 83.

    [8] Alexander, From Paradise to the Promised Land, 126.

    [9] Butler Bass, Grounded, 272.

    [10] Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2000), 192.

    [11] Michael E. Wittmer, Heaven Is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), Kindle Locations 2993-2996.